Thad Matta is notorious for having a short rotation at Ohio State, going no deeper than two or three reserves on a regular basis in seasons past. The Buckeyes will have a very different team in 2014-15, though, as a few familiar faces have played their final games in Columbus. With a highly-touted recruiting class coming in and a senior class that is trying to finally live up to the hype, Matta may have his deepest team in years. How will Ohio State blend this mix of youth and experience? Let's take an early look at what the depth chart may look like come the fall.
Matta is not afraid of playing three or even four guard sets at times, so having a bevy of capable ball-handlers and shooters is a must. With the departures of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., the Buckeyes will be relying on some fresh faces in the backcourt.
Shannon Scott will be manning the point, as he did for the first 21 games a season ago. The former McDonald's All-American was a Big Ten All-Defensive team performer as a junior, but still not has not proven that he can consistently knock down shots. Scott also turned the ball over nearly twice a game last season, and will need to limit his mistakes in facilitating the offense.
Joining Scott in the starting backcourt is likely to be heralded incoming freshman D'Angelo Russell, a McDonald's All-American himself, who some regard as the best pure scorer in his recruiting class nationally. Russell will be expected to provide something Ohio State has lacked in the backcourt since Jon Diebler graduated: a knock-down shooter. The Florida product is also an elite athlete, adept ball-handler, and skilled passer. As long as his defense passes muster with the coaching staff, Russell should see plenty of playing time.
Trying to pinpoint the backcourt reserves is a bit tricky because of the way Matta uses players interchangeably. Redshirt freshman Kam Williams will almost certainly be the first guard off the bench, and is capable of playing either guard spot. Were it not for a bout with mono last fall, Williams would have garnered playing time last season, as he impressed from the moment he stepped on campus.
I'm going to give the wing position its own section on the depth chart, again because Matta values versatility so much. As has been seen in the past, the Buckeyes will play their wings as ball-handling facilitators, slashers, spot-up shooters, and post-up threats, sometimes all in the same game. As many as five players could see time at the wing next season, but we'll focus on three.
Sam Thompson is the favorite to be the starting small forward, a position he has held down for much of the past two seasons. Much like Scott, Thompson has not proven to be a consistent perimeter threat. Though the senior can jump out of the gym and seems to make a highlight reel play at least once a game, Ohio State needs steadier production from the Chicago native, and that means becoming a more complete offensive player.
Behind Thompson will be a pair of freshmen in Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate. Both are highly-touted recruits, with Bates-Diop seeming to be better prepared to step up early on offense and Tate more likely to play the kind of defense Matta demands. How the two develop will determine how much playing time they get and how it is divided. Russell and Marc Loving have also played some small forward, and could be options for minutes as well.
The logjam at wing gives the Buckeyes the kind of versatility they love, and the most depth in recent memory. If either Bates-Diop or Tate can gain the coaching staff's trust and log significant minutes, Ohio State will be able to play around with bigger and smaller lineups.
The addition of transfer Anthony Lee from Temple provides for depth on the front line as well. Lee will likely start at power forward next to center Amir Williams. The key backups will be Loving and Trey McDonald.
The duo of Lee and Loving gives the Buckeyes a pair of legitimate stretch fours, which should help with spacing and increase the chances for the guards and wings to slash to the basket. Lee is also capable of playing some center in a smaller lineup, which could mean a reduction in playing time for McDonald.
The expected overall team improvement in perimeter shooting should help to open things up for Williams underneath. After shooting a healthy 60 percent from the floor a year ago, the senior could have a chance to finally live up his billing as a recruit and provide consistent interior scoring.
The wild card is Loving, who had an up-and-down season as a freshman. The former Ohio Mr. Basketball showed flashes of being a special player with the ability to score inside and out, but hit a wall down the stretch run of the Big Ten season, seeing his shooting percentage and minutes plummet. Adding size and improving conditioning are keys for Loving if he is to make an impact in the frontcourt and withstand the physical nature of the conference.
Given all of these variables, what might the Buckeyes' depth chart look like when they take the court in November? An early run through the roster looks like this:
PG: Scott, Williams
SG: Russell, Williams
SF: Thompson, Bates-Diop, Tate
PF: Lee, Loving
C: Williams, McDonald
Given Matta's penchant for riding his starters and pulling young players from games for lackluster defense, having four first-year players, and the versatility of the group, it is unlikely Ohio State will go 10-deep in too many games, particularly once Big Ten play starts. The fact that the Buckeyes conceivably could, though, is a luxury and insurance against injuries. The battle for minutes in Columbus should be fierce this fall.